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Poseidon Ruins the Party

Boredom on the Boat

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Our arrival to Georgia was meant to be highly romanticised, arriving by boat to the shores of Kolchis like Jason and the Argonauts (Kolchis is an ancient kindgom in western Georgia, and interestingly enough, to this day there are mountain traditions of using a sheep's fleece to filter the gold out of the rivers, hence the golden fleece). In a cynicism-affirming turn of events, because of "bad weather" (a little rain), or more likely lazy Georgian port authorities, we were stuck on the boat for 3 days, of which the last night we were anchored floating tantalisingly close to shore.

The boat was an interesting experience nonetheless. It seemed that we crossed the Europe-Asia divide when we reached the ramshackle port building in Illichyevsk in the Ukraine, complete with Georgian truckers squatting, smoking, and displaying their fat hairy bellies. The port building was surrounded by token Ex-Soviet industrial buildings that served no obvious purpose apart from creating a post apocalyptic atmosphere. In a Tarkovskyesque attempt, I photographed a few of them, but was immedeately shouted at by some woman, screaming things like "do you want your hands broken?", "do you think you're smarter than us?" and generally implying that the customs officials would rape me (to put it nicely). Nothing came of it.
Anyway, after hours of waiting for the customs officials to arrive, then waiting for the head customs official to have a 3 hour cigarette break, we were driven just to the stairs leading up to the giant MS Greifswald, and then we had to wait (this time in the rain) for them to open the door. The Greifswald is a Northern European (Danish I think) build ferry which took on trucks, trains and a few passangers. The signs on the ferry were in Danish, German, English and Lithuanian, with some paper Russian signs taped over. Clearly it was built for the Baltic, how it ended up ferrying Georgian truckers I have no idea.

There wasn't much to do on the boat. We had 3 meals a day of filling Soviet canteen style food, read, played chess, played capoeira, and slept a lot. The other passengers seemed content chain smoking huddled around the TVs watching terrible Russian programmes (all about crime) or even worse Georgian programmes (a bunch of people talking gibberish) with a light smattering of static. A small group decided to have a backgammon-fest, playing for pretty much the entire time. There were also some Russian and Ukranian truckers on board, but they kept to themselves, the Georgians dominated with their hairy exposed bellies.

Eventually we docked after hours of manuever, to another post apocalyptic Ex-Sovet port. This time with even more rusting piles of scrap metal, abandoned industrial complexes, and even half sunk rusting ships. Amusingly enough there was also a shiny white marina with a gleaming yacht in the middle of all this. Now, Georgia awaits...

Posted by Nomadics 07:54 Archived in Ukraine Tagged backpacking

Adventure has begun...

Freedom of the open road

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A quick flight, and I'm in Kiev, meeting Chuck at the airport. Everything is in place.

Central Kiev, we arrange for an overnight train to Odesa for that night, which gives us a few hours to kill looking around the oldest Slavic city there is. Kiev is nice, more european than Moscow in my eyes, tree lined boulevards, cafes, quaint old buildings that definitely look their age. Of course, this quaintness is surrounded by giant generic Soviet blocks and more modern buildings with shine plastic windows, but who would have it any other way? Although it seems Kiev has managed to throw off it's bad memories of the past.
As it was a weekend, the main thoroughfare is all pedestrianised, there was a mini anti-drugs techno rave, complete with 3 ravers, and all manner of vaguely entertaining street performance, like a man trying to cycle with no steering.

The churches in Kiev are definitely worth seeing, golden domes glittering under the blazing sunshine, it was very photogenic. We even managed to catch an orthodox service, the trance inducing harmonic chanting and incence was very awe-inspiring. A quick capoeira session on the square and meal later, and we got onto our overnight train heading south to the seaside, sharing a cabin with 2 Ukrainian Babushkas going on holiday.

Odesa is a nice town, very atmospheric old world buildings with the paint peeling off. I kept picturing in my head a story about my great-grandma, who lived here as a little girl. Apparently when she would go to the theatre with her father, he would always carry a pistol with him, just in case. Odesa has a huge network of tunnels underneath it, which have traditionally been the hiding place for all manner of brigands and pirates, giving a reputation of the black sea pirate capital during the Tsarist era.

Now it is a tourist haven, packed full or tour groups taking in the sights and the sun (although there has been a huge thunderstorm and rain all day today). We spent most of the day in a cafe, and fortunately stumbled upon the office of the ferry company that would take us to Georgia. Everything has worked out incredibly well, perfectly to plan. The boat is delayed for a day, so we can get on tomorrow, we found the offices 10 minutes before they shut, bought the tickets and now we're ready to go.

We have raced through the Ukraine in search of places more wild, and tomorrow we get on a 40 hour boat to Poti, Georgia, finally leaving Europe. See you on the other side :).

Posted by Nomadics 03:21 Archived in Ukraine Tagged backpacking

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